The John Pizzarelli Quintet: “Tribute to George Shearing”

February 13, 2022 | By

John Pizzarelli‘s weapon of choice is his guitar, and the two have traveled down too many musical roads to list. 

As I entered Birdland the other night to hear a tribute to George Shearing by the John Pizzarelli Quintet, I was reminded of the day his father—Bucky, a marvelous and much-missed man of the guitar himself—introduced him to the world of George Shearing. The boy never quite got over discovering and re-discovering the solo albums, the duet recordings with some of greatest and classiest jazz vocalists and, well, all sounds Shearing.

John Pizzarelli  (Photo courtesy of the artist)

This love built to a boil back in 2001 when Pizzarelli recorded a CD salute to the man called The Rare Delight of You, with Shearing himself writing the bulk of the charts. It is a magical CD, still—and it served as a template for the show at Birdland.

John’s pals for the night included Chuck Redd on vibraphone, Andy Watson on drums, Jay Leonhart on double bass with endlessly surprising touches all over the place, and Ted Rosenthal on piano playing like a man possessed.  

“Lullaby of Birdland” (George Shearing, George David Weiss) was the obvious opener, followed by a slew of choice goodies from the CD. 

I  still get a kick out of John’s quirky rhythmic spin on Bobby Troup’s  “Lemon Twist”—also his  swinging, kicking-the-can-down-the-road reading of “Everything Happens To Me” (Matt Dennis, Tom Adair).

If Dreams Came True” (Benny Goodman, Edgar Sampson, Irving Mills),  “Isn’t It Romantic” (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart), and “Mambo in Miami” (Cal Tjader ) came off the Broadway with a Beat album that Shearing did with Peggy Lee.

And the ballads—they’re a Pizzarelli specialty—simple, hushed, quietly mournful renditions of “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” (Irving Berlin),  “Something to Remember You By” (Arthur Schwartz, Howard Dietz), and the lovely “The Rare Delight of You” that John wrote with his wife, Jessica Molaskey. One could go on all night, that’s how many Shearing arrangements there are out there. Labors of love, all.

One catch before I leave you: There were replacement musicians tonight. Leonhart was subbing for bassist Mike Karn. Rosenthal (that guy possessed) was subbing for Isaiah J. Thompson on piano. These gentlemen were contacted at 3 that afternoon to sub in a show with charts that they had never seen or practiced before in their lives. And these are George Shearing charts, which means the piano and bass really have their work cut out for them.

Was there an announcement before the show? Nope. Didn’t need to. 

Most of the people in the house probably were unaware anything unusual was going on because, you see, nothing unusual was going on—that’s the point. If one is living in the great world of jazz and attending a show at a New York club like Birdland, this kind of thing happens more than you know. It is the caliber of talent, class, and life experience of the jazz musicians in this town—the kind who can read a chart, listen to the other members on board, and play together seamlessly. Think about that the next time you raise your glass at Birdland. Think how lucky you are to experience that kind of music playing in this city.


Presented at Birdland Jazz Club, two shows nightly, February 8-12, 2022.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Charles Nelson, a former professor in theatre, specializes in world theatre history, playscript and character analysis, stage direction, the American playwright and musical theatre, opera history, dance history, and the Great American Songbook. He has an MFA in Opera Direction, and was an Adjunct Professor at Montclair State University. He has been an editorial researcher at "People" magazine, NBC News, and Condé Nast.

Comments (4)

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  1. Paul Vincent says:

    How much fun to know! Thank You!

  2. After reading this, how I wish I was in NYC! Thanks for the great article.

  3. Deborah A Shalhoub says:

    Such a wonderful piece of writing….now I want to come back to NYC! Thanks for sharing your insight and love and joy of this group! MORE….MORE….please!!

  4. Getchie Argetsinger says:

    I love Charles Nelson’s eloquent review of John Pizzarelli‘s “Tribute to Shearing” at Birdland. I’m moved by his thoughts on the magic of Jazz and the artistry of the great NYC Jazz musicians who create that magic. Thanks for the inspiration and insight, Charles!